Peel police react to not guilty ruling after officers failed to return Sikh man’s turban

. Francis Vachon / File / The Canadian Press

A Toronto-area police force has reminded its officers of a directive regarding the proper search and handling of religious items after a court dismissed a drunk driving charge against a Sikh man whose turban fell off his head during the arrest.

Charges of impaired operation and excess blood alcohol against Sardul Singh were dismissed because Peel Regional Police officers did not return his turban after it fell while he was being placed in a cruiser.

Ontario Court Justice Jill Copeland, in a decision released last month, wrote that the failure to return Singh’s turban while he was in custody constituted a Charter breach.

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Copeland ruled that the breach of the defendant’s right to freedom of religion by police was a serious one, and that Singh’s breath sample evidence should be excluded because its admission into evidence would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

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In a statement Friday, Peel Chief Jennifer Evans says she ordered a review of the decision and the officer’s actions after Singh was detained at RIDE check on Dec. 10, 2014.

Evans says Peel Regional Police have had a directive in place since 2012 regarding the proper search and handling of religious items and a training bulletin has been issued internally to remind officers of this and other directives.

Peel police recognize “the proper search and handling of religious items are of great importance in keeping with the freedom of religious rights,” Evans said.

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“I am concerned by the negative impact that this incident and my officer’s actions have had on members within our community,” she said.

“We have since reinforced the importance of this directive to ensure that this type of mistake does not occur in the future.”

Copeland said in her ruling there was no dispute that the removal of Singh’s turban was an accident, but it was not returned to him for more than three hours.

“The evidence of the various officers who interacted with Mr. Singh about the cause for this delay in returning the turban, and what steps were taken when in relation to the turban, contains numerous inconsistencies,” Copeland wrote.

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She noted she had to consider the “important societal interest in protection of the Charter rights of individuals and in ensuring that the police respect Charter rights in carrying out their duties.”

Peel police policy states the only exception to returning a turban is that if a prisoner is suicidal, or if continuous monitoring of the prisoner is not possible, then the turban shall not be returned for security reasons.

“Neither of those concerns is at issue in this case,” Copeland wrote.

“A detainee should not have to ask police for his turban back when the police are aware that it is an item worn for the purpose of religious observance, once any security concerns in relation to the turban have been addressed,” she said in the ruling.

“I accept Mr. Singh’s evidence that he felt ashamed at being without his turban, and that it made him feel vulnerable.”